By Ashley Reich
Part 1: Let’s Talk about Financial Aid
Parents, if you have a child going to college this fall, you have been bombarded with terms and forms that sound like a foreign language. One of the most comment forms you likely have heard about is the FAFSA. The FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is a crucial piece of your child being assessed for the right amount of financial aid available at the institution of their choice based on various eligibility factors. If you have filled out this form previously, it may produce anxiety due to the number of questions and whether the information you provided was accurate. Either way, this form is important and, in some cases, required by institutions across the country for your student to receive institutional aid.
Why is the FAFSA Important?
The FAFSA is an application that will identify the proper amount of grant aid available to your child, if they qualify, as well as the opportunity to receive other forms of federal aid such as federal student loans. Over the years, the FAFSA form has become simpler to fill out. Federal Student Aid coupled with the U.S. Department of Education has worked diligently to implement skip logic criteria to remove unnecessary questions.
Many institutions use the FAFSA to determine institutional aid eligibility as well as federal aid. There is a misconception that families “won’t qualify for anything” and ignore filling out the FAFSA altogether. My recommendation for families is always to fill out the FAFSA – you will not know what you are eligible for until you do!
Review Your Aid
The world of financial aid is full of acronyms, and any form of award letter likely raises some eyebrows. Once the FAFSA has been completed, it is time to take the next step to review the aid available to your child. A couple of suggestions as you start reviewing the award letter from the institution –
- Make an appointment to see your child’s financial aid advisor. Many colleges have virtual and in-person options. This will allow you to sit with an expert to help you understand all the options.
- Ask questions about scholarships (internal and external) and what your child might qualify for even after the semester has begun.
- Consider whether your child can work while attending school. Are federal work-study jobs available or other positions available on-campus to make a little extra money?
- Ask the financial aid advisor to do a complete review of your family’s FAFSA data to ensure nothing was missed or filled out incorrectly that might affect aid eligibility.
Believe it or not, this process will become easier as you do it from year to year. The FASFA has an option for a renewal vs. having to fill this form out in its entirety each year, and you will become more familiar with the terminology used. Regardless, never be afraid to ask questions and ensure your child receives all the financial aid possible.